No, not even the ADA requires accommodating an alcoholic’s DUI-related incarceration

Sobriety checkpoint easthaven ct

By Versageek (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 ( or GFDL (], via Wikimedia Commons

Alcoholism can be a disability under the Americans with Disabilities Act. The EEOC notes here that the ADA may protect a “qualified” alcoholic who can meet the definition of “disability.” What is a “qualified” alcoholic? Someone who can perform the essential functions of the job with or without accommodation.

Allowing an alcoholic to attend AA to remain clean and sober? That works.

But, accommodating an alcoholic who “falls off the wagon,” gets a DUI, and needs time off from work because he is incarcerated? Not so much.

So says a federal judge in Seattle, WA in McElwain v. Boeing Co. (opinion here). School my readers, please:

Although conduct resulting from a disability is generally considered to be part of the disability, the Ninth Circuit has recognized “a distinction between disability-caused conduct and disability itself’ in cases involving alcohol-fueled misconduct and resultant termination. Such a distinction is further supported by the ADA itself, which provides that an employer “may hold an employee who . . . is an alcoholic to the same qualification standards for employment or job performance and behavior that such entity holds other employees, even if any unsatisfactory performance or behavior is related to the . . . alcoholism of such employee.” 42 U.S.C. § 12114(c)(4). Therefore, although Mr. McElwain’s DUI conviction may be related to his alcoholism, Boeing was not required to make arrangements to provide for Mr. McElwain’s continued attendance during the time he was incarcerated for his DUI conviction.

By the way, the same goes for an employee, alcoholic or not, who shows up to work drunk. You apply your work rules, which presumably is zero tolerance and a pink slip. Ditto illegal drug use.

For more EEOC guidance on drugs and alcohol under the ADA, check out this link.

Separately, I am part of a team that presents a training module on drugs, alcohol, and the workplace. If you are interested in learning more about how we can help your business, please email me.


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